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KTM Duke 390 ride review

Introduction: Founded in 1934 as a metal shop, KTM starting making motorcycles in 1954. Founded and headquartered in Mattighofen, Austria, KTM stands for Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen. It is named after engineer Hans Trunkenpolz, who founded the company. Kraftfahrzeuge means Motor Vehicles. KTM was later split into three companies due to insolvency. These three companies are KTM Sportmotorcycles AG, KTM Fahrrad GmbH (Bicycles), and KTM Kühler GmbH (Radiators).

India’s Bajaj Auto bought 14.5% stake in KTM Power Sports AG (parent company of KTM Sportmotorcycles AG) in Nov 2007. Bajaj later increased the stake to more than 20% in Dec 2007, to 38.09% in Nov 2010 and to 47% in March 2012. Though it was reported that Bajaj Auto was in talks for more stake, it was revealed at the launch of Duke 390 by Mr Rajiv Bajaj, MD, Bajaj Auto, that acquiring more stake was no longer possible.

Design: Muscular all the way. That’s the design you will see on all KTM Duke naked bikes. Not very different than the Duke 200 where design is concerned, the Duke 390 does have some cosmetic differences. The first to get your attention is the orange alloys and orange colored tubular space frame made from chrome molybdenum steel, powder-coated. Then you see the big 390 sticker on the tank (instead of the DUKE in case of 200). Apart from this, Bajaj is also giving plastic hand-guards as standard with the KTM Duke 390. Platform sharing between Bajaj and KTM is evident. The fuel tank lid is same as that in Pulsar, while the rear seat carries the logo of Bajaj Auto.

Instrument Cluster and LEDs: Though the Duke 390 does not feature flashy turn indicators or huge headlight casing, but what it has, is good enough. Small LED indicators on the front and rear, small headlight casing, and all you need to know instrument cluster. The IC shows you which gear you are on, distance to empty indicator, time, ABS on/off, service indicator, fuel level, engine heat level, side stand indicator, rpm meter, gear shift indicator, mileage, average distance covered per hour, neutral, engine malfunction, total kms, and trip meter. Apart from this, there are three buttons on the left of the display, MODE, SET and the third which has no name, just below the SET, is the ABS on/off button.

Performance and TechSpecs: This bike is a bullet. No two ways about it. The minute you fire-up the 390, there is this tamed growl, teasing you all the time. The first time you ride, you ought to be careful. If you dare act a bit disrespectful, you might end up in a position you did not expect. This is because of the insane power to weight ratio of 300 PS/ton. The engine has a displacement of 373.2 cc. It delivers peak power of 32 kW (43 hp) @ 9k rpm and peak torque of 35 Nm @7k rpm. Transmission is taken care by a 6 speed gear box. This combination allows you to accelerate form 0-100 in less than 6 seconds (5.8 sec), and a top speed of 170 kmph.

If you have an empty road, and are in an adventurous mood, the first gear takes you to speeds of upto 56 kmph, the 2nd to 82, 3rd to 104, 4th to 129, 5th to 155, 6th to 170 kmph. On the other hand, if you are in a cruising mood (highly not advisable), then the lowest speeds which the 390 can maintain in 1st gear is 5-7 kmph, 2nd 15-18 kmph, 3rd, 25-27 kmph, 4th 35-37 kmph, 5th 45-47 kmph, and 6th 55-57 kmph. Thanks to a powerful engine, the gear shifts are not needed very often once you are in motion. You also don’t need to down-shift often in order to overtake. With the 390, you can easily overtake most of the vehicles on Indian roads. You will win races at traffic signals, you will outrun the Audi’s, Mercedes’ and BMWs.

Riding comfort: The bike is not exactly designed keeping in mind the comfort levels of the rider or pillion. At the launch, Rajiv Bajaj clearly stated that this bike is pure performance. Go full throttle in first gear, after crossing 3-4k rpm, the acceleration is such that the bike forces you to lean forward. And if you don’t, you keep going backwards, to the point that you get the fear of falling off! Life is even more dangerous for the pillion. In fact it is uncomfortable to ride with a pillion. The acceleration makes it difficult for pillion to hold on, while deceleration makes sure that the pillion is onto the rider.

For a smooth road, this bike is great to ride. The riding posture is perfect, lets you take full control, keeps you confident while accelerating, zig-zag-ing, braking etc. But, the minute the road goes bad, potholes or bumps start coming in, the ride becomes harder than you could imagine. The suspension setting is tuned for performance. The suspension travel is just at 150 mm for front and rear tyre, and this leaves you with a soared back after riding the bike through a few potholes or bumps. On highway, the Duke 390 cruises effortlessly at speeds of 110-120 kmph in the sixth gear. But, the lightweight is a problem sometimes. Due to its less weight, the 390 becomes difficult to handle at high speeds, especially on a windy day. But, even in these conditions, the vibrations are minimum and the bike remains stable.

Engine heat: Apart from this, there is the engine heat which is a problem. Only 10 minutes of riding and the temperature bar was just one bar lower than the highest. Even though KTM has used Liquid cooling system that does continuous circulation of cooling liquid with water pump, it does not seem to be good enough for Indian conditions. We were riding in Pune mostly, where the temperature hovers around 20-25 deg C these days, and even then the engine heat was a problem for rider and pillion alike. We can only imagine what the condition would be in hotter cities, where temperatures during the day hover around 40 deg C.

For those situations, when the engine is overheated, there is a cool-off system in place. KTM engineers have smartly placed a ‘prevention is better than cure’ system in the 390. In case of continuous overheating of engine, the engine will automatically tune itself to not rev above 4k rpm. This will stay until the temperature of engine comes down, usually it’s 5-6 minutes.

Other things to know:  Duke 390 features Metzeler M5 Sportec tyres. 110/70/17 (Front), 150/60/17 (Rear). These are the best tyres to be offered on any India made motorcycle. These German rubber offer amazing levels of road grip, event in wet condition. We tested the bike in heavy rains at the Lavasa ghat, and guess what, the tyres never let the road go.

The down-side is that these tyres are expensive, and will have a much lesser life compared to the MRFs or any other brand you may have used in India. The Metzeler has approx life of 10-12k kms, depending on how you use it. Plus, the bike gives a mileage of about 18-30 kmpl. So, considering that the bike is priced at just Rs 1.8 lakh (ex-showroom), maintenance expenses will be like an expensive superbike.

Then there is the fuel tank. With just 11 liters capacity, you will be running out of fuel very often. So if you are going to accelerate and brake a lot (usually in the city), you will end up getting mileage of just 18 kmpl, giving you a full tank driving range of about 200 kms. But on the highway, you can get as much as 30+ kmpl while cruising. But still, if you are doing a long journey, you will need to stop often for refueling.

On the upside, Duke 390 features the latest in Antilock Brake System from Bosch. What this does, is that no matter how hard you lock the brakes, front or rear, you will not lock the tires. This is fantastic for riders in India, considering the amount of bones broken by the locking of discs without ABS. The ABS comes as a standard.

Conclusion: The last few year’s there has been this segment of buyers who were not able to upgrade, just because there wasn’t a worthy product in the market. But now, their wait is over. With an attractive price tag like that of Duke 390, it is definitely THE bike, if you were waiting for one. And if you are one of those two stroke fans, the 390 will get you the closest to them, and that too with added safety. The Duke 390 is also perfect for all those who were waiting for an upgrade from Pulsar 220s and Karizma’s.


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